Box office preview: 'Paranormal Activity 4' will haunt the No. 1 spot

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Image Credit: Dean Hendler

As Halloween approaches, the box office is looking frighteningly good.

After three straight weekends of terrific results (thanks to Hotel Transylvania and Taken 2), Paranormal Activity 4 is entering the fray and eyeing a hefty debut. Tyler Perry thriller (yep, you read that right) Alex Cross will also open, and multiple holdovers are set to finish in the double-digit range.

Basically, it should be a busy frame. Here how it might shake out:

1. Paranormal Activity 4 – $41 million

Paramount’s found footage franchise has dominated the late October box office over the last three years, and things should be no different this weekend. The horror series earned its highest opening weekend ever with last year’s Paranormal Activity 3, which started with $52.6 million on the way to a $104.0 million finish, but PA4 will likely start a bit softer.

Not only is franchise fatigue starting to set in (this installment has earned the weakest reviews of any entry so far), but the similarly themed horror film Sinister, which debuted last weekend, will eat into Paranormal‘s prospects. Still, the Paranormal Activity brand is strong, and just as Taken 2‘s reviews didn’t have a negative effect on that film’s opening weekend, Paranormal Activity 4‘s shouldn’t either. And even if the film bombed — it won’t — Paramount would be just fine, considering the studio spent only $5 million to make the film. Haunting about 3,300 theaters, PA4 may finish the weekend with $41 million.

2. Alex Cross – $15 million

Alex Cross, the fictional character at the center of a popular book series by James Patterson, has already had two movies about him at the box office. Morgan Freeman played the action star in 1997 Kiss the Girls, which grossed $60.5 million, and then again in 2001′s Along Came a Spider, which earned $74.1 million. Now, Tyler Perry has been recast in the Alex Cross role, but considering he’s not a consistent draw without his Madea costume, it’s unlikely that Cross will score substantially better numbers than its predecessors. Summit is releasing the film, which was produced by QED for about $23 million according to a source close to the production, in 2,538 locations, and thanks to Perry and Patterson super-fans, the film may shoot up to about $15 million.

3. Argo – $13 million

Critics and audiences alike have heaped praise on Ben Affleck’s spy drama Argo, which opened in second place last week with $19.5 million. Thanks to great word-of-mouth (and early Oscar buzz), the film has topped Taken 2 during weekdays this week, and over the Friday-to-Sunday period, when most adults are away from work, it should fare even better. Look for Argo to drop by a scant 35 percent to about $13 million, which would put the $44.5 million Warner Bros. release’s total at just under $40 million in ten days.

4. Hotel Transylvania – $12 million

The popular kiddie flick dropped only 36 percent in its third weekend, and with Halloween approaching and no new family films entering the marketplace, Hotel may fall by an even slimmer 30 percent to $12 million, which would give the Sony animation a monstrous $116 million total.

5. Taken 2 $11 million

Liam Neeson’s latest will blaze past the $100 million mark this weekend despite the fact that Taken 2 is falling rather quickly at the box office. After a 56 percent decline in its sophomore frame, Taken 2 will likely drop by about 50 percent once again, giving it $11 million over three days.

Check back to EW all weekend for full box office coverage, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute results.

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